Missionary Poems, 1925–1951
Edited with an Introduction by David Andrews
Foreword by David Angus
2015, 176 pages
ISBN 978-1-937385-55-2 Paper $38.00
ISBN 978-1-937385-56-9 Cloth $75.00
"South Fukien: Missionary Poems 1925-1951 is both fascinating and timely. The poems, together with the preface and the extensive introduction, provide a wealth of insights on Christian missions in a China torn by banditry, foreign invasion, and civil war. This work is an important contribution to an archaeology of American attitudes toward China and Chinese reception of Christianity.
– John Lawson
Professor of English, Robert Morris University
The years 1925–1951 marked a period of world changing political, social, and economic upheavals in China, with few provinces more affected than Fukien (Fujian), where the ambitions of the Nationalists, Communists, and freebooting warlords made life unpredictable and dangerous. Missionary observer William Angus of the Reformed Church was there with an ear for the voices of the storytellers, the verse is as vital as the Chinese people, its true subject.
"William Angus's South Fukien: Missionary Poems, 1925–1951, reveals in unprecedented depth the spiritual and emotional bonds between the Gospel, Chinese convert, and the Christian missionary. Writing with objectivity, sensitivity, compassion, and uncompromising directness, Angus does not pretend. The poems are both flattering and unflattering. This is not "A Nice Missionary's Poetry." "Its spirituality . . . emerges from the discovery of moral certainties in mundane events—personal conflicts, doctrinal misinterpretations, unfairness, and everyday betrayals." A scholar and lover of books, Angus is a 'reporter' writing in verse. Although many authors express sympathy for the Chinese, rarely, perhaps never, have so many compelling truths been compressed into so few words.
Angus's poems will appeal to anyone interested in Chinese culture and religion as practiced in the real world. It should be compulsory reading for seminarians and future missionaries who will interpret the Gospel for people in foreign lands. Others will appreciate the economic and political circumstances prevailing in the region of the Kiangsi Soviet before the Long March.
Stationed in the remote mountain valleys of coastal Fukien Province in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's, Angus served peasant communities after the Ch'ing Dynasty collapsed in 1911. Without a unified government or military entity to maintain peace and stability, the villagers were caught between the twin forces of nature and man. Besides nature's wrath, there were imperious public officials, local warlords, petty gangsters, and the soldiers of competing forces (Nationalists, Communists, and Japanese) each living off the land (See the poem titled "Like Water").
So Angus probed the Chinese mind, shaped by traditional wisdoms and beliefs, stoically accepting of tragedy and death, while persevering through spare, optionless lives in the face of poverty and oppression. Ever pragmatic, however, the Chinese embraced Christianity because of the storied quality of the Gospels, and because the Christian faith is based on love and compassion among a community of believers.
Angus's poems are the literary equivalent of Chinese landscape paintings. Majestic mountains, rushing rivers, and vibrant forests set the backdrop for two peasants gathering firewood, thereby revealing with a few brush strokes the insignificant place of man in nature, with all that that implies. So Angus sets the stage, and then with a few strokes of his pen, reveals truths and conundrums, joys and sorrows, faced by convert and missionary when practicing their faith.
What should be done when the righteousness of a Christian obligates another to unrighteous behavior? ("Holdout") Perversity caused by shielding children from witnessing executions: ("A Favor") Why destroy a villain's house after he is dead ? ("Death of the Fox") A predatory warlord too busy 'doing good deeds' to become a Christian: (A Call on the Fox") Staying in bed is better than going to school: ("The Prospect") Getting better control: ("An Exceeding Weight of Glory") Punishment for a life of service to students, God, and country: ("Tribute to the Sims").
An exceptionally fair-rminded man, Angus recognizes his own flaws. Unrighteous thoughts: ("An Illustration"); Consoling someone thought to have caused the death of children? ("The Arm"); Guilt: ("After the Looting"). Angus offers the reader a glimpse into this broad catalogue of human behavior: moral rectitude, veniality, heroism, and sacrifice, faith, and covetousness—all exhibit their colors in South Fukien.
– Dr. Paul Vander Meer
Professor Emeritus, California State University-Fresno